The role of science and innovation for the transformation of agri-food systems

Dr QU Dongyu
FAO Director General

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Science and Innovation are very deeply rooted in my heart. So, as a scientist and a strong advocate of innovative approaches, I am pleased to be here today.

We are at a critical moment in time – the world is not on track to achieve zero hunger by 2030. Our agri-food systems are not performing optimally, and the pandemic has prompted all of us to rethink the way we produce, process and consume food. To achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to adopt a holistic, coordinated approach, harnessing science, technology and innovation to transform our agri-food systems.

Strengthening the science-policy interface is critical: scientific evidence needs to inform decision makers and catalyse this transformation. Today’s challenges remind us more than ever that we must work together: solidarity, urgency, accountability and action are needed!

To achieve the ambitious transformative changes required, we need to change policies, mindsets, behaviors and business models. Here at FAO, unprecedented transformative action took place in the past 20 months. We adjusted the organizational structure, broke down silos and introduced a deep reform for an efficient, effective and agile FAO to better serve our Members.

Our flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative aims to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development based on data and information, especially for the poorest countries. It is supported by the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform and the Data Lab for Statistical Innovation, which combines big data and artificial intelligence for decision-making.

FAO’s Green Cities and 1000 Digital Villages Initiatives are also opportunities for innovation and transformation of agri-food systems. FAO’s Chief Scientist, the first in the Organization’s history, works to ensure our strong science-based voice across all our work.

The Office of Innovation was established to further reinforce and expand innovation and technology as a key component of our activities. But it is very important to think of innovation more holistically – it is not just about new technologies, it’s also about financing, networking and new business models.

To reach impact at scale, new and transformative partnerships are needed, including with the private sector, academia and civil society organizations. Our new Strategy for Private Sector Engagement drives pro-active cooperation for the benefit of our Members.

And we must elaborate new and enabling policies based on the best available evidence – policies that foster the production of nutritious foods and make them safe, affordable and accessible. FAO’s new centers are further advancing the Organization’s knowledge base to inform action and act as support hubs for the science-policy dialogue:

  • the Joint FAO/WHO Centre integrating FAO’s work on food safety, animal diseases and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) through a One Health approach; and
  • the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

FAO’s new Strategic Framework seeks to support the 2030 Agenda through the transformation to more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable agri-food systems for Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment, and a Better Life, leaving no one behind. To accelerate progress and to realize our aspirations – FAO will apply four cross-cutting “accelerators” in all our programmatic interventions: technology, innovation, data and complements (governance, human capital and institutions).

Dear Colleagues, the UN Food Systems Summit provides an excellent opportunity to work together to ensure that our agri-food systems are more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable, and can provide healthy diets for all. FAO is the UN Anchor Organization of Action Track 1 “Ensure Safe and Nutritious Food for All” and is engaged in all the other Action Tracks, drawing on our extensive technical knowledge. We are part of your Scientific Group that is ensuring the robustness, breadth and independence of the science that underpins the Summit and its outcomes.

The Scientific Group-led “UN Food Systems Summit 2021 Science Days” will be facilitated and co-hosted by FAO on 8 and 9 July this year, and will focus on highlighting the centrality of science, technology and innovation for agri-food systems transformation.

Science can play a pivotal role in identifying synergies and trade-offs across the different dimensions of agri-food systems and to advance evidence-based policymaking. These Science Days as well as our Workshop today allow us to take stock of the science and evidence base, engage in dialogues and share experiences around science-based actions and solutions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as scientists and knowledge-based organizations, we need to be vocal and we need to support the agri-food systems transformation using Science and Innovation. FAO will continue providing full support to the UN Food Systems Summit preparatory process and beyond.

So let’s work together, learn together and contribute together!

Thank you.

 

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